Fox // 1962 // 146 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // April 3rd, 2013
Every kiss cost him a piece of himself!
Everybody loves The Great Gatsby. And really, what's not the love? There's unrequited romance, tragedy, a beautiful evocation of the Jazz Age, and some of the sharpest prose ever written in the English language. I'm not about to bash Gatsby, but for my money Fitzgerald's next novel -- Tender is the Night -- is his masterpiece. Following the breakdown of his wife Zelda, F. Scott retreated to a remote location to work on a novel about a young and beautiful couple -- one a psychiatrist, the other his patient -- that was full of his trademark shining prose and reflections on wasted life. Coming almost a decade after Gatsby, Tender is the Night was poorly received by many critics and readers, leaving Fitzgerald dispirited. He would not complete another novel in the six years before his death. Many blamed the novel's failure on a flashback structure, but even when the novel was re-edited to be more linear, it didn't catch on. For all these reasons, Tender is the Night makes an unlikely Hollywood movie, but by 1962 the studio system was on the verge of its mutation in the wake of the New Hollywood directors who would (briefly) take over in the late 1960s. In a weird marriage of late-Golden Age filmmaking and late-Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night is the kind of lush drama that's rarely seen anymore. With this pan-and-scan DVD as an example, it will probably not been seen again for a while.
Dick Diver (Jason Robards, Once Upon a Time in the West) is a psychiatrist in a Zurich clinic, and there he meets a patient, Nicole (Jennifer Jones, The Song of Bernadette) with whom he falls in love. Though the pair is American, they spend their time living it up in the famous social spots of Europe, gradually eroding their relationship until its eventual undoing.
I've been surprised too often to label a novel as "unfilmable," but I can say with some confidence that the Hollywood style of adaptation -- taking plot and dialogue from a novel -- is probably never going to work with Tender is the Night. The plot meanders too much (both with the flashbacks and with the main story of the Divers) to make a compelling drama without serious revisions, and this version of Tender is the Night decides to take the long way 'round, clocking in at 146 minutes. That means there is both too much (too many scenes of talking that go nowhere) and too little (too few scenes that give us a real idea of character motivation). The result is a bit of a mess that doesn't really present the novel and doesn't really stand on its own (like, let's face it, most adaptations of American Modernist novels).
What the novel does offer is a number of opportunities for Hollywood to indulge in what Hollywood does best. The year 1962 was near the apotheosis of widescreen technologies, competing color technologies, and Hollywood's desire to show audiences what they were missing by staying in with that square box called television. The novel provides plenty of chances for Tender is the Night to give us gorgeous location shooting, from the beaches of the South of France, to Paris, and the countryside near Zurich. The film takes some advantage of this fact, with some choice location photography. When it isn't on location, the novel encourages the filmmakers to go for sumptuous sets.
Herein lies the problem with this DVD. Released as part of Fox's Cinema Archives series of made-on-demand discs, Tender is the Night is exactly the kind of flick that deserves the TLC of a small release. I credit Fox for trying to get this film out there. However, Tender is the Night is presented in a 1.33:1 pan-and-scan transfer. Let that sink in. I can't remember the last time I typed that phrase. It's almost certainly a version of a TV video master from decades ago, and the lack of detail, poor color rendition, and shiny surface seem to support that claim. It turns lush "DE LUXE" color into what looks like a bad nighttime soap from the '70s. It's especially galling because the box art uses one of the theatrical posters, with the proud "CINEMASCOPE" logo on the bottom. The stereo audio is actually better than the video, keeping the dialogue largely clean and clear.
I don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth -- releasing Tender is the Night without extras as an MOD disc is a great idea -- but we left pan-and-scan behind for many, many reasons. Though I'm not one to say that certain things should stay in the vaults, with Tender is the Night, I think it should until a suitable widescreen print can be found. If one can't be located that should be noted clearly in all materials related to the DVD; if I had purchased this disc with its tiny "1.33:1" on the back of the box, I would be terribly disappointed. Fans of the film who simply must see it can see a version of it with this release, but it's not worth it for most film fans.
Tender is the Night is hardly a successful film deserving of the full restoration treatment. However, given the strength of its source, the size of its stars, and its place in Hollywood history, it needs more than a pan-and-scan DVD. For those willing to overlook the video, this is an okay release, but buyers should beware before purchasing.
Guilty of providing a pan-and-scan transfer in 2013.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 146 Minutes
Release Year: 1962
MPAA Rating: Not Rated